|Jean Valjean, Prisoner 24601|
For those who have read the book or seen the movie (there have been a couple) or musical a lot of this will be a review.
The story starts in post-revolution France and the law at the time was pretty hard-line about criminal behavior- Jean Valjean stole a loaf of bread and got 5 yrs. Of course he tried to escape and ended up serving a total of 19 yrs.
With a criminal record, he was unable to find work and was left on the street- cold and hungry. He came to a church and was given food and a bed for the night. He got up in the middle of the night, filled a bag w/pieces of a beautiful silver service, and ran. He was caught by the police and brought back.
Valjean had lied to the police, saying the silver was a gift. The priest of the church then did something extraordinary- he could have condemned Valjean to a life sentence in prison, but instead, chose to agree that the silver had been a gift, and asked Valjean why he left the best pieces- a pair of huge silver candlesticks.
In this small act- choosing to not accuse him- the priest offered Valjean forgiveness and compassion and a chance at redemption that he didn't expect to receive. Valjean was able to receive that gift and he ran with it, becoming a successful businessman, even the mayor of the town.
Throughout the rest of the story, Valjean then offered those same gifts to Javer. Two separate times, Valjean could have utterly destroyed his enemy, but he didn't. He forgave him, and spared his life.
But unlike Valjean, Javer was simply unable to wrap his head around these concepts. He couldn't cope with it.
Valjean proved that Javer's entire life had been based on a lie, and he was unable to accept the forgiveness Valjean offered and the goodness in Valjean's character.
I think that's really the wonderful and tragic thing about this story- two men from such different backgrounds who need the same thing and are given that very thing they need so desperately. While one is able to take it and make a wonderful life for himself and those he loves, and the other is unable to accept the gift.. and the dissonance in his own soul destroys him.
The Atonement really is an amazing and wonderful gift.. if we can wrap our heads around it and accept that gift.